The decision of the Greek Olympic sailor Sofia Bekatorou to comment in 1998 on a suspected sexual assault by a high-ranking union official sparked the country’s #MeToo movement. Shortly after the former Olympic gold medalist revealed the attack in early January during an online event organized by the Ministry of Culture and Sport to protect children in sport, dozens of other cases emerged as a domino effect exposing the downside of sport in Greece.
The Athens Public Prosecutor’s Office opened a preliminary investigation following the clear testimony of the attack that took place in the federal official’s hotel room during preparations for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. When the official’s name became known, his membership of the Hellenic Sailing Federation (HSF) was suspended. Several members of the federation resigned out of respect for Bekatorou, and the Greek Stavros Niarchos Foundation has frozen all payments to HSF. Although the case was referred to a prosecutor, the procedure is considered more of a formality, as the crime is prescribed after 15 years under Greek criminal law. The perpetrator has denied all allegations and labeled Bekatorou’s comments as “false and defamatory”.
Many crossed against the allegations, wondering why it had taken them so long to talk about it, questioning the nature of the attack as well as the victim’s motives. This skeptical reaction from a large number of the Greek population only showed the pathogenicity of society and proved that speaking out against sexual assault – “even after so many years” – is far more problematic than the incident itself. In the face of prejudice and provocation, accused, find Sexual assault victims still find themselves in a situation where they have to justify having a voice over the incidents that stigmatized their lives afterwards.
Government support is vital. Today, Bekatorou can be fortunate enough to enjoy the advantages of the development of institutions, the progressiveness of the judiciary, the solidarity of society and the manner in which the community is psychologically supported. However, the case was not the same then and that was one of the main reasons the veteran Olympic champion and now mother of two did not break her silence sooner.
“I hope … that other women and people who have experienced sexual abuse will come forward so that our society can become healthier and we can no longer be afraid.”
The case is not the same for many women who have had the same experience but are not as well known as Bekatorou. For many of them, their “state of infamy” would not create the same media excitement, making it doubtful that they would ever dare share their personal experiences without the audience questioning their morals and consent. Unless there is collective action and mobilization, as in the case of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Following the example of Bekatorou, former university students spoke out against one of their professors who systematically exploited his academic status to harass his students. Since the experienced sailing master broke her silence, dozens have followed.
Cases of sexual assault will keep cropping up as there is still objectivity towards both women and men. Given that changing the mindset where “no” means “no” is a long-term struggle, governments should start with the basics first. by relieving victims of the moral need to first prove that they are not guilty of sexual abuse, by establishing the mechanisms to protect and heal victims and by holding the perpetrators accountable. When authorities and societies stop turning a blind eye, no one will be alone.